Kerala is a state in South India where the battle between the multi national cola giant, Coca Cola and the local people has reached a peak in recent times. So here's an account of what has been happening:
The Coke unit in Kerala was established by Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd in 1988-89 at Plachimada in the Palakkad district of Kerala. It employs about 70 permanent and 150-250 casual labourers. The region is populated mainly by Adivasis (an Indian term for tribal or indigenous people, if translated loosely) and Dalits (those who were formerly known as 'Untouchables').
The Coke plant in Plachimada draws out 1.5 million litres of ground water a day from its 65 bore wells spread over 17 hectares. As a result, the ground water and the water in the wells nearby has depleted affecting the paddy crops grown by the local populace. The water has been so depleted that now even Coke has been forced to reduce its extraction to 800,000 litres per day. In a region where groundwater resources have always been plentiful, and agriculture is the main occupation, there is disaster looming. The quality of the water from nearby wells has also deteriorated rapidly. The water now turns milky upon boiling and is almost undrinkable.
Worse, the effluents
released from the plant have begun to contaminate not just the ground water but also nearby barrages and reservoirs like the Moolathara barrage and the Meenkara dam reservoir. The sludgy slurry waste that was produced was also sold to some of the farmers as fertilisers.
The protests of the local populace against these activities have drawn the ire of the police and the local authorities. There have been numerous arrests of those protesting against Coke including those of women and children. The protests, now over a 100 days old are beginning to attract more and more adivasis and gain the attention of the national media in India.
Both Coke and Pepsi are in deep trouble in India anyway. First, this week the Centre for Science and Environment declared that their tests on the products of Pepsi and Coke has revealed a high level of pesticides! Now, Indian newspapers are reporting that many big shops and restaurants are refusing to sell Coke or Pepsi. The irony of course is that in a country where the vast majority do not have access to drinking water, the media should be galvanised by the presence of these pesticides (a serious charge no doubt, but one that primarily affects the Indian middle class, who make up a very small segment of the Indian population).
Protests against Coke have also been resonating from Varanasi, the holy city right in the heart of India. The plant has been accused of evading local taxes, (and has been found guilty of the same by a local court), of encroaching on common property belonging to the village of Mehdiganj and enjoying heavily subsidized electricity while polluting the nearby fields with its toxic waste. There have been protests against Coke in Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu and Thane in Maharashtra.
To return to the issues surrounding the Plachimada protests, on June 9, 2002 the police cracked down on the indigenous people whose peaceful picketing outside the Coke factory had entered the 49th day. Police violently arrested 130 protestors, mostly indigenous peoples and including 30 women and 9 children and infants. Another big rally attended by nearly 2000 local people was held on April 22, 2002. Coke's recent placatory gesture of supplying a truckload of water each day to the two worst affected villages hasn't impressed the protestors. They say that Coke will have to pay for restoring the damaged groundwater aquifers and for long-term water supply to all the impacted villages.
For more information on the ongoing struggle against Coke in India please check www.corpwatchindia.org. Also, some of the facts for this WU were taken from http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=32&ItemID=2316.